In an Indian express editorial, Mandira Kala discusses the Bills, addressing corruption and good governance, pending in Parliament. She discusses what their fate may be given that the Monsoon session is widely being viewed as a make or break session for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament. The monsoon session of Parliament started on a stormy note last week. Question hour was disrupted on most days and only one government bill was passed. There are 11 days left in the session and more than 40 bills pending for parliamentary approval. With the 15th Lok Sabha drawing to an end, this session is being viewed as a "make or break" session for the government to get its legislative agenda through Parliament. Since 2010, there has been much debate in Parliament on corruption and an important part of the government's legislative agenda was the introduction of nine bills in the Lok Sabha to address corruption and improve governance through effective delivery of public services. Three of these bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are currently pending before the Rajya Sabha. These include legislation to address corruption in public office, enforce standards and accountability in the judiciary, and protect whistleblowers. The government has proposed amendments to each of these bills that the Rajya Sabha will have to consider and pass. If the Rajya Sabha passes these bills with amendments, they will be sent back to the Lok Sabha for approval. It is difficult to assess in what timeframe these bills will become law, given that both Houses need to agree on the amendments. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill creates a process for receiving and investigating corruption complaints against public officials, including the Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament, and prosecuting these in a timebound manner. The government amendments include allowing states the flexibility to determine their respective Lokayuktas and giving the Lokpal power of superintendence over the CBI, if the case has been referred by him. A mechanism to protect whistleblowers and create a process for receiving and investigating complaints of corruption or wilful misuse of discretion against a public servant are proposed under the Whistleblowers' Protection Bill, 2010. The amendments proposed by the government prohibit whistleblowing if the disclosure of information affects the sovereignty of the country and its strategic, scientific and economic interest. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards and establishes processes for the removal of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. The bill is not listed in the government's legislative agenda for the monsoon session and media reports suggest that the government intends to make amendments to it. In the arena of strengthening governance and effective delivery of public services, there are three bills currently pending in Parliament. The Citizens' Charter Bill confers the right to timebound delivery of goods and services on every citizen and creates a mechanism for redressing complaints on such matters. The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill mandates that Central and state governments shall deliver public services electronically no later than eight years from the enactment of the law. The parliamentary standing committee had highlighted that the Citizens' Charter Bill and Electronic Delivery of Services Bill have an inherent overlap, which the government would have to resolve. While the former is listed for passing in this session, the government plans to withdraw the latter and replace it with a new bill. This new bill is not part of the list that is up for consideration and passing this session. To create a reliable method of identifying individuals to facilitate their access to benefits and services the National Identification Authority of India Bill was introduced in Parliament to provide unique identification numbers ("aadhaar") to residents of India. This bill has not been listed for parliamentary approval during this session. Two other pending bills do not find place in the government's legislative agenda for the session either. These include legislation that curbs the holding and transfer of benami property and regulates the procurement process in government departments to ensure transparency, accountability and probity. The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials Bill, which imposes penalties on Indian companies and individuals who bribe officials of a foreign government or international agency, is listed for passing this session. Each of these nine bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha. If they are not passed by both Houses before the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved in 2014, no matter where they are in the legislative process, the bills will lapse. This implies that the entire legislative process will have to start all over again, if and when there is political will to legislate on these issues in the 16th Lok Sabha. The challenges in getting legislation passed by Parliament are many, given that its overall productive time, especially time spent on legislation, is decreasing. Typically, Parliament spends about 25 per cent of its time debating legislation, but in the past few years this average has declined to 15 per cent. While the time lost by the House due to frequent adjournments is difficult to make up, parliamentarians will have to cautious about passing bills without the rigours of parliamentary debate. It is uncertain what the trajectory of the anti-corruption legislation in Parliament will be — enacted as law or resigned to a pool of lapsed legislation.
Yesterday the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha engaged in a debate on the President's speech, known as the Motion of Thanks. The President's speech is a statement of the legislative and policy achievements of the government during the preceding year and gives a broad indication of the agenda for the year ahead. Close to the end of the UPA government’s term, it would be useful to evaluate the status of the commitments made in the President’s addresses. (To know more about the significance of the President’s speech refer to this Indian Express article. To understand the broad policy and legislative agenda outlined in this year's address see this PRS Blog.) The President's speeches since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, have addressed reforms to the financial and social sectors, improving accountability of public officials, and making the delivery of public services more efficient. We analyse the status of each of these commitments. Accountability in governance processes In an effort to increase accountability and transparency in governance processes, the government introduced a number of Bills.
- The the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill and the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill enable individuals to file complaints against judges and other government officials for corruption and misbehaviour.
- The Whistleblowers Bill has been introduced to protect persons who are making disclosures on corruption, on the misuse of power and on criminal offences by public servants.
These bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are pending in the Rajya Sabha. The government has recently approved amendments to the Lokpal Bill, which may be considered by the Rajya Sabha in the Budget session. Public service delivery In order to make public service delivery more efficient, the government introduced the Electronic Services Delivery Bill and the Citizen’s Charter Bill.
- The Electronic Services Delivery Bill aims to deliver all government services electronically .
- The Citizen’s Charter Bill creates a grievance redressal process for complaints against the functioning of any public authority.
- Both Bills are pending in the Lok Sabha since introduction in December 2011.
- Related initiatives include linking the delivery of public services to Aadhaar and moving towards the cash transfer of subsidies. On January 1, 2013, the government piloted cash transfers to deliver subsidies for scholarships and pensions.
Social sector reforms: land, food security and education Broad sectoral reforms have been undertaken in land acquisition, food security and education to aid development and economic growth.
- Land: In 2011, the government introduced the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. The Standing Committee Report on the Bill was released in May last year, based on which the government circulated a list of amendments to the Bill in December 2012.
- Education: Elementary and middle school education saw reform in 2009 with the passage of the Right to Education Act (RTE Act). This legislation provides every child between the age of six to fourteen years with the right to free and compulsory education. As per the law, by March 2013 all schools are to conform to the minimum standards prescribed. States have expressed concerns over their preparedness in meeting this requirement and it remains to be seen how the government addresses this issue.
- Food security: The National Food Security Bill is pending in Parliament since 2011. The Bill seeks to make food security a legal entitlement, reform the existing Public Distribution System and explore innovative mechanisms such as cash transfer and food coupons for the efficient delivery of food grains. The Standing Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill in January this year.
Financial sector reforms In order to aid growth and encourage investments, the President had mapped out necessary financial sector reforms.
- Taxation: The Direct Taxes Code has been introduced in Parliament to enhance tax realisation. However, even though the Standing Committee has presented its report, there has been little progress on the Bill. Efforts are underway to build political consensus on the Goods and Services Tax to rationalise indirect taxes.
- Regulation of specific sectors: A bill to regulate the pension sector has been introduced in Parliament. Other financial sector reforms include a new Companies Bill, amendments to the Banking laws and a bill regulating the insurance sector. Amendments to the banking laws have been approved by Parliament, while those to the Companies Bill have only been passed by the Lok Sabha.
In the backdrop of these legislations, it will be interesting to see the direction the recommendations of the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, responsible for redrafting all financial sector regulation, takes. Internal security The government is taking measures to deal with internal security concerns such as terrorism and naxalism. In 2009, the President mentioned that the government has proposed the setting up of a National Counter Terrorism Centre. However, this has been on hold since March 2011. At the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in June 2009, the President presented the 100 day agenda of the UPA II government, in his address. Of the eight bills listed for passing within 100 days, none have been passed. In addition, the President’s address in 2009 mentioned five other Bills, from which, only the RTE Act has been passed. In the final year of its tenure, it needs to be seen what are the different legislative items and economic measures, on which the government would be able to build consensus across the political spectrum.
The issue of judges declaring their assets assumes importance in light of recent allegations and inquiries into allegations of wrongdoing by judges (read our post on the report of the Committee set up to examine allegations of wrongdoing by Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court). The Delhi High Court also gave a judgement recently, requiring judges of the Supreme Court to declare their assets. The Bill on judicial accountability (read summary here) requires judges to declare their assets to a specified authority within 30 days of them taking their oath of office. The assets of spouses and dependents is also required to be disclosed. The Bill also states that the assets declared will be put up on the website of the relevant court.
The Public Accounts Committee examines how the Government spends public money. It examines the amount granted by the Parliament and the amount actually spent. A Speaker in the past, has passed a direction which specifies clearly that a Minister cannot be summoned by the Financial Committees. This has been incorporated in a document titled "Directions by the Speaker" available here. The actual text of the direction reads - "99. (1) The Committee on Estimates or the Committee on Public Accounts or the Committee on Public Undertakings may call officials to give evidence in connection with the examination of the estimates and accounts, respectively, relating to a particular Ministry or Undertaking. But a Minister shall not be called before the Committee either to give evidence or for consultation in connection with the examination of estimates or accounts by the Committee." -Co-authored by Chakshu
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 1, 2010. The Bill was introduced by the Shri M. Veerappa Moily, the Minister of Law and Justice. The Bill seeks to (a) lay down judicial standards, (b) provide for the accountability of judges, and (c) establish mechanisms for investigating individual complaints for misbehaviour or incapacity of a judge of the Supreme Court or High Courts. It also provides a mechanism for the removal of judges. Find the main features of the Bill explained here.
Parliament has announced the ministries whose Demands for Grants will be discussed in detail in the Lok Sabha (after April 12 when Parliament reconvenes). They are: Defence Rural Development Tribal Affairs Water Resources External Affairs Road Transport and Highways Together these ministries have asked Parliament for a total of Rs 289,938 crore (Rs 175,772 crore for Defence alone) - which is slightly over a quarter of the total expenditure budgeted by the Central Government for 2010-11. The Rajya Sabha does not discuss demands for grants but has announced a list of ministries whose functioning it will review after the recess. They are: Home Affairs Tribal Affairs Defence Power Chemicals and Fertilizers Petroleum and Natural Gas Youth affairs and Sports Women and Child Development Consumer affairs, Food and Public Distribution Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation